Monthly Archives: April 2013

America! F&*@ Yeah! Or Maybe Just “Yeah.”

“The future success of an American evangelical political philosophy depends on whether it is willing to affirm the providentially blessed reality of the American experiment in ordered liberty while successfully navigating the treacherous land mines of civil religion.”–John Bolt: Abraham Kuyper and the Search for an Evangelical Public Theology a chapter in Budziszewski’s, “Evangelicals in the Public Square”

I know many of the progressive type evangelicals out there or even the not so progressive types but rather the more moderate types but surely not the conservative types (it’s disconcerting to start labelling positions) would baulk at this statement (though the conservatives would be misunderstanding what Bolt is saying). For some time there have been admonitions within the evangelical Christian community, probably first by the distinguished Mark Noll, George Marsden and Nathan Hatch, that America really has no right to claim providential special status among the nations. As a matter of fact, America is not the first to do so anyway. Regardless, Stephan Walt explains what it looks like to do so here.

“Myth 5

God Is on Our Side.

A crucial component of American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States has a divinely ordained mission to lead the rest of the world. Ronald Reagan told audiences that there was “some divine plan” that had placed America here, and once quoted Pope Pius XII saying, “Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind.” Bush offered a similar view in 2004, saying, “We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom.” The same idea was expressed, albeit less nobly, in Otto von Bismarck’s alleged quip that “God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States.”

Confidence is a valuable commodity for any country. But when a nation starts to think it enjoys the mandate of heaven and becomes convinced that it cannot fail or be led astray by scoundrels or incompetents, then reality is likely to deliver a swift rebuke. Ancient Athens, Napoleonic France, imperial Japan, and countless other countries have succumbed to this sort of hubris, and nearly always with catastrophic results.

Despite America’s many successes, the country is hardly immune from setbacks, follies, and boneheaded blunders. If you have any doubts about that, just reflect on how a decade of ill-advised tax cuts, two costly and unsuccessful wars, and a financial meltdown driven mostly by greed and corruption have managed to squander the privileged position the United States enjoyed at the end of the 20th century. Instead of assuming that God is on their side, perhaps Americans should heed Abraham Lincoln’s admonition that our greatest concern should be ‘whether we are on God’s side.'”

Over all, I agree with Walt, AS STATED SUCH, especially his first paragraph and the last line of his last paragraph. The problem though, that I have, is twofold.

A. The Christian understanding of providence.
B. Given the nature of providence, Walt’s way of describing the matter is not entirely accurate.

Here’s what I mean. Providence, as I understand it, is simply God working in the world for greater good purposes or God’s guidance in the human affairs toward an eschatological teleos–God guiding humans toward a certain destiny. Christians usually think of “the Hand of Providence.” Now, I haven’t listened to much of CCM in a long time but the only song that I know of that speaks explicitly of providence was written by Michael W. Smith called, “The Hand of Providence” back in the early 90’s.

Having said that, there is nothing heretical about America claiming God’s guidance at her founding or even as she presently stands. America can claim God’s guidance just as any other country would like. The problem is when we make claims of SPECIAL STATUS. A status that says America was chosen like the nation of Israel in biblical times.

Allow me to be a little more specific. I want to tell you what I am NOT saying and what I AM saying. When I speak of about America making a claim of guidance like any other country, I am NOT saying that God approves of every country’s political system. What I AM saying is that God has a purpose for every country. In the case of America, I do think that ON BALANCE democracy is better than most of what we have out there especially against any country that has a political regime that is monistic and totalitarian. Why? Because democracy is the antithesis of monism and totalitarianism. One could say that any type of monism or totalitarianism is essentially idolatry. The state or dictator is supreme. It is ultimate. It is expansive taking over areas that are the proper God-given domain of other individuals or institutions and even God himself. Built into democracy, as imperfect as it is (because of what can result from it) is that people have the freedom to live and flourish responsibly.

Having stated that, claiming providence should be said with humility and taken with the utmost seriousness realizing that one has a God-given responsibility. As Neuhaus says:

Ideals do not make their way in history except they be carried by persons and institutions. The carriers inescapably fall short of the ideals to which they witness. This is most dramatically true of the Church as the bearer of the Gospel. It is also true in the realm of social and political change. Although it is the primary bearer of the democratic ideal today, America is far from having fully actualized that ideal in its own life. To say that America has a singular responsibility in this world-historical moment does not mean that America is God’s chosen nation, as for instance, Israel was chosen by God. God has made no special covenant with America as such. God’s convenant is with his creation, with Israel, and with his Church. However, because America is a large and influential part of his creation, because America is the home of most of the heirs of Israel of old, and because this is a land in which his Church is vibrantly free to live and proclaim the Gospel to the world, we believe that America has a peculiar place in God’s promises and purposes. This is not a statement of nationalistic hubris but an acknowledgment that we bear a particular and grave responsibility. Beyond this, we are also mindful that this is the nation for which we are most immediately accountable.”

To conclude, there is no contradiction between claiming providence and Christian theology. You would think, that if America was a “world-historical moment” that Christians would take their democracy and freedom and civic duty just a tad bit more seriously.

Natural Law and Evangelical Universalism

Thinking about Natural Law today. Here’s a quote from Budziszewski’s, “Evangelicals in the Public Square” and some of my thoughts.

“According to Calvin, the law of God—as well as human statute law, when it is well modelled on the law of God—functions in three ways: (1) as a mirror, because by exhibiting God’s standard of righteousness, it makes fallen humans aware of their sins and imperfections; (2) as a curb, because it restrains the unregenerate through fear of penalties; and (3) as a teacher, because it instructs the regenerate in the requirements of sanctity. Surprisingly, Henry’s retrospective on The Uneasy Conscience makes plain mention of only the second use: “Even at its best, of course, statute law does not impart moral power, but rather compels obedience under the threat of penalty. He does follow this statement with an obscure hint of the third use: “But if law lacks moral force in public life it is not because regenerative powers cancel it. But because secularist society has lost sight of law’s revelatory foundation and heritage.” –J Budziszewski: Evangelicals in the Public Square

Later Budziszewski says that as a mirror, the law has two branches:

1. When God at last condemns man, man cannot claim ignorance of the standard by which they are judged.
2. The law prompts us to flee to God as refuge.

Now this is the Holy Spirit using even such things as the laws of the land to convict us of falling short. In other words, statute law can serve not as a means of salvation but as a preparation for it. That is, tell me, if you bomb a marathon, the more vividly you conceive of the law that it is wrong to murder, would you not the more sharply feel your sin?

Also, if sin is mis-relating between God and man, does this not work itself out in ethical imperatives? In other words, part of my mis-relating to God and man is ultimately not loving God and man. What does it mean for me to not love God and man? Faith without works is dead, right? I ultimately mis-relate to God when I don’t follow through on the ethical imperatives about loving God and my fellow human. For example, again, if I love God, I will not murder. I may even try to save a life. Why? Because I do it out of love for God and my fellow human being. If I don’t follow this imperative then I’ve mis-related to God.

Now, I can still believe in Universalism (of the Evangelical type via the likes of Thomas Talbott and Robin Parry and Eric Reitan) because whatever brought me to that point of deep mis-relation needs some surgery to remove or purge me of that which does not make me fit for Heaven.

A Quick Post on Open Theism

Just wanted to put up a quick post and a link to a blog that I think any readers out there will find very informative on Open Theism written by two, mostly online buddies of mine (I’ve met them on a couple of occasions in Minnesota),Tom Belt and Dwayne Polk. Dwayne has worked with Greg Boyd and both have been in conversation with Greg Boyd pretty much since these boards started back in 2000. Open Theism Discussion Boards. You can see that blog here: An Open Orthodoxy

Slippery Slopes, Causation and Liberalism

I told the girl behind the counter at the cafe I visit on my lunch break at work that I was thinking of becoming a Catholic because of the social changes that are taking place in our society. Possibly a due to a purely psychological reason though. Just feel the need for a “safe harbour” amidst those changes. Hopefully, this post will help you see why.

On Monday I was listening to “Kresta Live” with Al Kresta interviewing Francis Beckwith. As this portion of the show was ending, an annoucement came on for “Catholic Exchange.” The announcer was talking about President Obama’s “evolving stance” on marriage. I went to the Catholic Exchange website and looked up the article that the announcement was about. You can read that here:

Essentially, the idea behind the article is that if the President was evolving then it would have meant that the traditional idea of marriage that he moved FROM was wrong and if THAT is the case, then same-sex marriage might be wrong. That is, making it exclusive for heterosexual and homosexual couples. Next it might be something else. Polygamy, polymory or incest between consenting adults. According to the article, the problem with evolving or progressing is that it never stops. In one sense this may not be true as some would argue that it would stop with marrying, say, your toaster.

Now, this argument, which we call the slippery slope argument has been dismissed by SSM advocates. Everything from mere dismissal to dismissal via scientific studies (so far). That is, scientific studies that show why incest would or should not be socially acceptable. One young Catholic gal wrote on her blog about how Catholics are bemoaning and grieving the loss of Christendom as an era in America and how that needs to be respected here:

What I want to suggest here is why I think the slippery slope is still legitimate in this context ( it’s not as if the slippery slope as an argument per se is invalid, as there have been many policies that have gone down the slide of the slippery slope after all).

Over the past ten years I began looking at sphere sovereignty because I resonated with much of what Richard Mouw spoke about (I definitely see him as being more of a “generous orthodoxy” type because much of what should inform the contextualization of the gospel is tradition and I still think the “younger evangelicals,” a term I first heard coined by Robert Webber, though more liturgical are predominantly ahistorical) as well as on the behest of Jim Skillen. So you start drawing the connections between who’s who and sphere sovereignty. Another name very much associated with sphere sovereignty is my online friend, David Koyzis. You begin to find out that Abraham Kuyper was the father of sphere sovereignty and that Herman Dooyeweerd was a largely instrumental in the philosophical area.

As I began reading Koyzis’ work (his book as well as his blog) he spoke about liberalism being in five stages and thinks that we are more than likely in the fourth stage but you can see the fifth stage being worked out presently as well. His prediction is that after the fifth stage we may likely return back to stage one. I won’t go into detail into each of the stages that Koyzis writes about, but I do want to write down the stages and then share a few quotes from his blog to inform us about how liberalism works out. So the stages are:

1. The Hobbesian commonwealth
2. The night watchman state
3. The regulatory state
4. The equal opportunity state
5. The choice-enhancement state

Now, Koyzis goes on to say this (from his blog with links)

“Each stage beyond the second sees a progressive expansion in the reach of the state, as sovereign individuals, desiring to pursue their own ends, continually alter the terms of the social contract when these ends demand it. At the second stage, the parties to the contract wish to keep government as small as possible, but as the combined effects of their self-seeking lead to inevitable abuses, government is called on to rectify these. Because liberalism recasts political community as a voluntary association, there is no fundamental reason to oppose the state’s expansion as long as the citizens wish it. Thus at its third stage, liberals come to expect government to curb the large corporate concerns. At its fourth stage, they call on government further to secure equal opportunity. And finally, in its fifth stage, corresponding to the last four decades, liberals call on government to cushion the impact of a wide variety of personal choices whose consequences would otherwise be destructive.”

“In my Political Visions and Illusions I trace the development of liberalism through five stages, beginning with the Hobbesian commonwealth, through the night watchman state, the regulatory state and the equal-opportunity state and finally to the choice-enhancement state. My argument is that the cultural shifts of the 1960s marked the transition between the fourth and fifth stages — from a focus on the expansion of material opportunities through state intervention to an emphasis on expanding the human capacity to choose, period. In the choice-enhancement state, government undertakes to maintain a benign neutrality towards a variety of personal lifestyle choices, ostensibly on the grounds of freeing individuals from oppressive constraints on their freedom. Hence Pierre Trudeau could claim that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, a conclusion difficult to contest on the surface. Yet personal choices are not without consequences, not only for the individuals themselves but also for their immediate and extended communities. These consequences are by no means equal in their impact on the larger society, with some more evidently diminishing of human flourishing than others. Therefore, in order to maintain the illusion of equality of lifestyle choices, the state is called upon to compensate for these unequal consequences by means of the very welfare state programmes established during the previous stage of liberalism for different reasons.”

“Liberalism has moved through more than one stage beginning with Thomas Hobbes and culminating in its most recent manifestation in North America. The eschatological vision of liberalism may be less obvious than in Marxism, but it can be said to consist of a society in which everyone acquires equally a maximum degree of personal autonomy, by means of either a small government getting out of the way or, more recently, an expansive government actively intervening to increase the range of personal options available to all.”

“Although I do not treat consumerism per se in my Political Visions and Illusions, I wonder whether its political manifestation might not correspond to what I have called the choice-enhancement state, that is, the fifth and latest stage in the development of liberalism. There is an undergirding assumption in our culture that it is good for individuals to have an expanding array of choices set before them, much like a buffet table with a variety of edible delicacies to tempt the palate. Politically this assumption translates into two possibilities: (1) government should free up the economic marketplace to allow individuals to pursue their own rational self-interest; or (2) government should intervene to expand the number of choices available to individuals and to compensate for the inevitable negative side-effects of those choices. In any event, it is taken as axiomatic that governments should not pursue policies supportive of some choices over others, lest it become an oppressive legislator of the good life. That choice might entail obligations or responsibilities does not enter the picture. Over the long term this is a recipe, not for freedom, but ultimately for tyranny.”

That right there is the slippery slope folks. It is liberalism that opens the door for autonomous individuals to make more and more lifestyle choices. Choices which tell the government to “get out of the way” in order to make those choices or asks it to act as some “neutral arbitrator” (though it isn’t acting neutrally under this liberal scheme of things) to increase the range of choices that one would be able to make aka., polygamous, polymory, incestuous, etc. Once the “bitter fruit” of these choices has been tasted, liberalism asks government to step back in to deal with the fallout. Ultimately, the slippery slope argument should be understood against the backdrop of this historical motif. I think one could say that it really is not a question of a slippery slope (yes, things will lead from one thing to another in the particular issues), but of causation. And contra the Catholic gal above, it’s not so much that I would bemoan this sad state of affairs as much as I bemoan the fact that contemporary society is quite oblivious to the philosophical underpinning for said state of affairs.

Sin, Sex and Doubt

My online facebook bud, Derek Rishmawy, wrote this piece over at Christ and Pop Culture:

Many of the comments said that they had problems with Derek’s article because they assumed that pre-marital sex is not responsible for doubt–that they doubted their faith or saints have doubted their beliefs long before or who never had sex. This was my response on facebook at CaPC:

“I totally get this. The logic of the connection between sex and doubt. This is not really hard at all. It seems like basic logic.

A. You can have doubt without having had sex.
B. You can doubt while having sex.
C. You can have sex without having doubt.

I would say that you are more or less affirming “B.” “A” is obviously true. Which is what most commenters were saying, yet for them that seems to cancel out “B” which it doesn’t. None seemed to be saying C because I think they intuitively know that “B” holds. In other words, show me someone who is out there, having pre-marital sex and isn’t doubting or at least starting to doubt their faith. The point being that faith is more than mental assent. That what “shores up” or assures ones faith is a proper heart expressed ethically. Assurance in part comes from doing. Think of driving. If I want to feel safe, I don’t feel as assured mentally as I would if I put my seatbelt on.”